Sleep Disorders Could be Signs of Early Parkinson’s Disease

If you've had particularly vivid or troubling dreams lately, or tend to thrash about in your sleep, you may want to speak with your functional doctor about your potential risk factor for neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson's. Sleep problems can be an early clinical sign of Parkinson's disease, occurring months or even years before other motor symptoms become apparent.

Let's find out what kind of sleep patterns may be early warning signs of Parkinson's so you can recognize the risks and take action if necessary.

Parkinson's disease is movement disorder that stems from the brain, causing uncontrollable motor movements like shaking or stiff muscles. In later Parkinson's disease, symptoms worsen and people may have trouble talking, walking, or maintaining balance. Because it's a neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson's is also known to cause sleep problems, mood changes, memory & cognitive issues, and fatigue.

Learn more about neurodegenerative disease treatment at CentreSpringMD.

How a sleep disorder could be linked to Parkinson's disease

A study published in the journal Parkinson's Disease found a potential new connection involving stool testing and very early signs of Parkinson's (1). 

For background, Parkinson's disease is characterized by the presence of unusual clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein in cells. Researchers in Germany have found the presence of these alpha-synuclein deposits in the stool of people with a condition known as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) (2). 

The presence of these proteins and being able to detect them could help doctors diagnose patients earlier, which would improve treatment effectiveness.

RBD causes people to experience particularly vivid and/or disturbing dreams and they may move around or thrash in their sleep as they attempt to act out the dream. This frequently involves injuring oneself or an unlucky bed partner.

RBD is strongly associated with certain neurodegenerative disorders, so much that about 70% of people who have idiopathic RBD will have Parkinson’s disease or other type of dementia within 12 years of diagnosis (3). But the discovery of the same protein deposits in the stool of both Parkinson's disease patients and those with RBD is a major step toward early detection (4). 

Related: The Neurodegenerative Disease That May Actually Begin in the Gut

What's RBD?

REM behavior disorder is a type of sleep disturbance involving very vivid dreams and movements while sleeping. While we dream, which occurs during REM sleep, our muscles are typically temporarily paralyzed to prevent us from reacting to things happening in our dreams.

The symptoms of RBD can be mild or severe. While they’re asleep, a person with RBD may:

  • Have small muscle twitches or move their hands, arms, or legs
  • Lash out while acting out a bad dream to kick, punch, or grab the air or their bed partner
  • Talk, mumble, yell, or scream
  • Jump or fall out of bed

Most people who have RBD symptoms aren't aware of their yelling or movements during sleep. In fact, many people only find out they have symptoms when their bed partner tells them about their behavior or when they wake up with unexplained injuries.

Read: The Unexpected Connection Between Vitamin D and Sleep

The importance of REM sleep

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is one of the five sleep stages. It’s the only stage where we dream, characterized by rapid eye movements, bodily movement, and faster pulse and breathing. This level of sleep is thought to help consolidate memories and strengthen motor skills, though the purpose of the sleep stage isn't completely understood. Interestingly, it appears to not be essential to survival, unlike other stages of sleep (5).

People normally go through 4 to 6 REM cycles each night about every 80 to 100 minutes, on average. This stage of sleep makes up about 25% of a night’s sleep.

Shop: Holistic solutions for better sleep. 

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Do sleep problems lead to Parkinson’s?

Sleep deprivation and fragmented sleep do appear to leave the brain more vulnerable to oxidative stress, which has been tied to the development of Parkinson’s disease and cognitive impairment (6). People with Parkinson’s disease may experience REM sleep disorder that occurs months, and sometimes years, before more noticeable symptoms, like tremors or shaking.

There are two forms of Parkinson’s disease, and only one of them results in RBD as an early symptom. The majority of cases originate in the central nervous system, but about 30% of Parkinson’s cases originate in the part of the nervous system that resides in the gut, the enteric nervous system.

The form of Parkinson’s that originates in the gut is known as “body-first Parkinson’s disease”. And the hallmark deposits of the previously mentioned α-synuclein protein are formed in the neurons in the intestine (7). It’s this “body-first Parkinson’s” which is associated with extremely vivid dreams and movement during sleep.

Read: Stress, Anxiety, & IBS: The Gut-Brain Connection

Could it help improve early intervention for Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is not usually diagnosed until individuals have developed sufficient motor symptoms, by which time a significant portion of brain cells have already been damaged. If sleep disturbances foreshadow the development of Parkinson’s symptoms, these could be useful in early diagnosis of the disease (8).

Getting enough sleep, in general, is important to our overall health, and some research indicates that sleep and circadian dysfunction can lead to neurological disorders. Regardless of whether you’re at risk of sleep disorders or Parkinson’s disease, prioritizing restful sleep every night will pay off for your health and longevity.

Related: New Clues About Dementia & Alzheimer’s Risk

Get better sleep & reduce sleep issues

If you have trouble sleeping, consider following the next tips to achieve better sleep quality. Higher quality sleep may help decrease your risk factors for acute and chronic health issues.

Stick to a regular schedule, even on weekends. Good sleep hygiene means having a consistent bedtime and wake time. Even on the weekends, try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.

Try a sleep-supporting supplement. In addition to a consistent sleep schedule, supplements that contain magnesium, GABA, or relaxing herbs can help with falling asleep.

Avoid certain foods & drinks before bedtime. Coffee, a glass of wine, or a super sugary dessert can all cause sleep difficulties.

Design an ideal sleeping environment. Take screens out of your bedroom. Aim for dim lights, low sounds, and a calm, inviting bedroom to help you fall asleep. Avoid things that are too stimulating, like your phone, TV, or bright lights.

Protect cognitive health with functional medicine

Ask your provider at CentreSpringMD about how functional medicine can help you identify and address the root cause of your sleep-related issues as well as staying proactive about cognitive health. the diverse options available for allergy symptoms. In addition to dietary, lifestyle, and targeted supplementation, your doctor may also recommend:

  • Acupuncture
  • Genetic testing
  • Gut function analysis
  • Metabolic testing
  • Toxicity analysis

Contact your CentreSpringMD team today to get started. Together, you’ll find the right integrative therapies to support healthy brain health and cognition at any stage of life.




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